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United States v. Mills

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

July 15, 2019

EDWIN MILLS, et al., Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on Defendants Edwin Mills and Carlo Wilson's joint motion for a petit jury drawn exclusively from Wayne County, Michigan (Dkt. 771). The Government filed a response in opposition to the motion (Dkt. 792), to which Defendants replied (Dkt. 832).[1] For the reasons stated below, the Court denies the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Because the Court has previously described the factual and procedural background of this case in greater detail in other opinions, it need not do so again for purposes of the present motion. See, e.g., United States v. Mills, 378 F.Supp.3d 563 (E.D. Mich. 2019) (denying motions to dismiss); United States v. Mills, No. 16-cr-20460, 2019 WL 1915762 (E.D. Mich. Apr. 30, 2019) (denying motions for bills of particulars); United States v. Mills, 367 F.Supp.3d 664 (E.D. Mich. 2019) (granting in part and denying in part motion to preclude rap lyrics and videos).


         Defendants argue that, under 18 U.S.C. § 3235, they are entitled to a petit jury drawn exclusively from Wayne County, Michigan, and not the nine counties that a jury would usually be drawn from for trials held in the Detroit division of the Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division.[2] Defendants claim to find further support for their position in the Sixth Amendment and the Jury Selection and Service Act of 1968 (“JSSA”), 18 U.S.C. § 1861 et seq.

         The constitutional right to a jury trial appears twice in the U.S. Constitution. First, Article III provides that “the Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said crimes shall have been committed.” U.S. Const. art. III, § 2, cl. 3. Second, the Sixth Amendment provides that “[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a . . . trial[] by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law.” U.S. Const. amend VI.[3] It is readily apparent that Article III was concerned with establishing a jury trial right in criminal cases and venue for criminal trials, while the Sixth Amendment reconfirmed these rights and added the right to a jury from the locale of the crime, known as vicinage.[4]

         When it comes to federal capital cases in particular, the venue of the trial has been further limited by legislation. Section 29 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 once provided that, in “cases punishable with death, the trial shall be had in the county where the offence was committed, or where that cannot be done without great inconvenience, twelve petit jurors at least shall be summoned from thence.” Act of Sept. 24, 1789, ch. 20, § 29, 1 Stat. 88. The latter vicinage requirement that twelve jurors in capital cases be summoned from the county of the crime was later repealed in 1862. See Zicarelli v. Gray, 543 F.2d 466, 478 n.60 (3d Cir. 1976) (citing Act of July 16, 1862, ch. 189, § 2, 12 Stat. 588). The current statute governing the venue of capital cases-18 U.S.C. § 3235-similarly provides that “[t]he trial of offenses punishable with death shall be had in the county where the offense was committed, where that can be done without great inconvenience.”

         Defendants contend that § 3235 must be interpreted to mean that they are entitled to a petit jury composed of citizens only from the county in which offense was committed-here, Wayne County. According to Defendants, the phrase “had in the county where the offence was committed” in Section 29 of the Judiciary Act expressed Congress's intent to guarantee a “county-level vicinage right to those facing capital punishment . . . .” Defs. Mot. at 9-10. Defendants argue that, although it was later amended in 1862, the unaltered clause in Section 29 is virtually identical to the language in § 3235, and, therefore, it should similarly be interpreted to mean that “a federal capital defendant is entitled to a jury drawn from that county's residents as well as to proceedings within its geographic boundaries.” Defs. Mot. at 12. The Court finds Defendants' argument meritless.

         The Court begins with the text of § 3235, ascribing the statute's words with their plain and ordinary meaning, while, at the same time, ensuring that any construction of § 3235 would not render any part of it inoperative, superfluous, void, or insignificant. Corley v. United States, 556 U.S. 303, 314 (2009); United States v. Albertini, 472 U.S. 675, 680 (1985). If the statutory language is plain given the words “in their context and with a view to their place in the overall statutory scheme, ” the Court “must enforce [§ 3235] according to its terms.” King v. Burwell, 135 S.Ct. 2480, 2489 (2015); accord United States v. Bedford, 914 F.3d 422, 427 (6th Cir. 2019) (“It is well established that ‘when the statute's language is plain, the sole function of the courts-at least where the disposition required by the text is not absurd-is to enforce it according to its terms.'” (quoting Lamie v. United States Tr., 540 U.S. 526, 534 (2004))).

         Section 3235 is clear and unambiguous. Under a plain and straightforward reading, the statute merely provides that a federal capital trial must generally be held in the county where the offense was committed, but even that right is not absolute. Cf. United States v. Taylor, 316 F.Supp.2d 722, 727 (N.D. Ind. 2004) (“Section 3235 does not vest a defendant with an absolute right to a trial within the county where the offense was committed.”). Nothing in the statute's text suggests that the jurors must be drawn from the same county. Indeed, the very heading of this statute-“Venue in capital cases”-clearly indicates that it addresses venue for capital cases, nothing more. See Fla. Dep't of Revenue v. Piccadilly Cafeterias, Inc., 554 U.S. 33, 47 (2008) (“[S]tatutory titles and section headings are tools available for the resolution of a doubt about the meaning of a statute.” (quotation marks omitted)).

         Moreover, § 3235 finds itself within the statutory scheme of Chapter 211 of Title 18 of the United States Code, which establishes the rules governing “Jurisdiction and Venue” in criminal cases. While Defendants are correct that, at one point in time, a capital defendant had a statutory right to a jury selected from the county of the offense, Congress repealed that right in 1862 “after realizing the difficulty obtaining impartial jurors from the immediate vicinity of the crime.” United States v. Watts, No. 14-cr-40063, 2016 WL 6873040, at *3 (S.D. Ill. Nov. 22, 2016); United States v. Parker, 19 F.Supp. 450, 459-460 (D.N.J. 1937) (noting that, in 1862, Congress realized the difficulty of obtaining an impartial jury where all jurors are selected from the county of the offense); see also G. Ben Cohen & Robert J. Smith, “The Racial Geography of the Federal Death Penalty, ” 85 Wash.L.Rev. 425, 441-442 (2010) (“[T]he ease of the repeal effort does not warrant the conclusion that no weighty purpose drove the motion to repeal . . . . Northerners, again concerned about the ability of county-level Southern juries to return treason verdicts against would-be secessionists, wanted the county-level juror requirement removed so that a more diverse jury could be drawn from the entire federal district.”).

         Defendants' failure to find support for their position in the case law is not surprising, as it appears that every court interpreting § 3235 has reached the same conclusion as this Court. See, e.g., Watts, 2016 WL 6873040, at *3 (“There is simply no support for the proposition that Congress intended in enacting § 3235 for jurors in capital cases to all come from the county of the offense.”); United States v. Ciancia, No. CR 13-902, 2015 WL 13798679, at *2 (C.D. Cal. Sept. 3, 2015) (“There is no case law to support Defendant's claim that 18 U.S.C. § 3235 allows for a jury to be composed of only residents of the county in which the crime was committed.”); United States v. Northington, No. 07-550-05, 2014 WL 1789151, at *9-10 (E.D. Pa. May 6, 2014) (denying the defendant's motion for a new trial based on his claim that § 3235 entitled him to a jury composed of residents from Philadelphia County only because there is “no statutory right to a jury from the county of offense”); United States v. Savage, Nos. 07-550-03, 07-550-04, 07-550-05, 07-550-06, 2012 WL 4616099, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 2, 2012) (rejecting the defendant's “attempt to import a ‘vicinage requirement' into” § 3235, and finding that the “statute requires only that the trial of a capital defendant be held in the county where the offense was committed”); United States v. Johnson, No. 04-17, 2010 WL 1294058, at *2 (E.D. La. Mar. 29, 2010) (rejecting the defendant's argument that “venue as contemplated by Section 3235 contemplates jury venire and selection as well as the presentation of evidence”).

         Because § 3235 is concerned with venue, not vicinage, Defendants appear to also argue that the Sixth Amendment and the JSSA support their argument that a petit jury must be drawn exclusively from Wayne ...

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